24 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Government Must Zone Out Land for Urban Agric

It was the best maize crop I had seen in a while in Zimbabwe and Pioneer Seed Company could not help notice a great marketing opportunity, flaunting the crop with its company logos.

There is just one catch however; this crop is not on some A1 or A2 farm, it is on a field in Mbare, along Simon Mazorodze Road.

With an estimated 10% of land in Harare being used for urban agriculture (UA), a 2009 report from Agritex showed that urban and peri-urban areas had the highest maize yields in the country.

Urban agriculture has however been a contentious issue in Zimbabwe, which has seen a number of altercations erupting between residents and their city councils.

The case that would sooner come to mind is one that transpired two years ago when hundreds of Harare residents invaded Harare City Council (HCC) premises in protest against the cutting down of their mostly ripe crops.

The conduct by HCC angered many, who blamed the public institution for being an albatross to people's efforts to earn a decent livelihood.

With the unemployment rate in Zimbabwe being well over 80%, many people are struggling to put food on the table. This is more so in urban areas, where the cost of living tends to be high.

Agriculture presents many a chance to feed their families, while some have claimed to have put their children through school from money obtained after selling their products. Children from families that consistently practise UA have been observed by health officials to be better nourished than those from families that do not.

Besides serving as a food security measure, UA offers environmental benefits. The most significant benefit would have to be adding to the urban areas' greenery, in the process reducing pollution as the plants help by absorbing dangerous gases like carbon dioxide and others emitted into the air we breathe every day.

In that same vein, urban crops serve as a significant climate change mitigation measure in the urban setup.

Considering all the above mentioned benefits from UA at both household and national level, it has made no sense for many people that the responsible authorities would criminalise the activity. That is why it was necessary to try and find out Zimbabwe's current stance on UA.

Banarbas Mawire, the country director for Environment Africa had this to say: "We support what we are calling sustainable urban agriculture. It is now a reality the world over that cities have to produce food for themselves. The problem we have in Zimbabwe is that urban agriculture is not regulated and that is why it ends up being done on sensitive areas like wetlands. There should be zoning, so that correct things are done on appropriate areas."

Asked on his organisation's stance on UA, Steady Kangata, publicity officer for the Environmental Management Agency said: "Agriculture gives us a form of livelihood, regardless of where you are, as long as it is done in acceptable areas.

"If agriculture in the urban setting is done at designated points, there is nothing wrong with that. What is not acceptable is farming on ecologically-sensitive areas like wetlands."

An official with a local seed company, who preferred anonymity, said it is important to zone out land for UA and make sure that the farming does not harm the environment.

"I don't see why people cannot be allowed to plant on open ground. People just need to be made aware they cannot plant on wetlands, hills, etc, as that will cause environmental degradation," the official said.

There have been reports of some urban farmers preferring to plant on wetlands, where they would not need to worry about weather conditions, as the ecologically-sensitive areas have an abundance of water stored in them.

An attempt to get more insight on HCC's UA policy proved futile as Leslie Gwindi, the council spokesperson asked for questions in writing, to which a response did not come. Gwindi's cellphone was continuously unavailable thereafter.

Wetlands under threat

However, urban agriculture on vleis has been observed to act as a hindrance to the function of wetlands, thereby threatening the cities' water sources.

There has been growing concern in the country over the abuse of wetlands and equally concerted efforts from various stakeholders to put a stop to it. The Water Act and The Natural Resources Act ban cultivation in these areas.

But besides those that have decided to carry out their agricultural ventures on unsuitable areas like wetlands, there are still many more people that plant on open ground.

These are the people many of those that have spoken in support of UA would have in mind.

For feedback, email; cmasara@standard.co.zw

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